Ryan Gander by Katherine Satorius
Marc Foxx, Los Angeles CA
November 18 – December 23, 2006
Originally published in ArtUS 17
There was no clear point of entry into British artist Ryan Gander’s “Enough to Start Over,” his second solo show in the U.S. and his first in Los Angeles. Encountering it was like coming upon an inscrutable, impassive building whose interior emitted a seductive, maddening hum. Among the objects in the gallery were corkboards pinned with various papers; photographs of same; a passport photograph of Gander’s mother wearing earrings created by artist Jonathon Monk as part of Monk’s 2006 edition “To Tears”; colored tape affixed to the floor in a 1:1 scale rendering of Sherlock Holmes’s fictional living room; and an engraved Tiffany necklace placed in the corner as though discarded. Finally, there was “Cork room for the realization of a twelve-part TV series entitled ‘Appendix Appendix’ (A work in Progress) (2006)”—a small cork-paneled room in which Gander (who, at age 29, was included in this year’s Tate Triennial) sat busily collaborating with designer/writer Stuart Bailey on a script “firmly intended to be made and screened.” Perhaps 100 sheets of letter-size paper, each filled with text and/or small grayscale images, were tacked to the wall. One showed an imagined dialogue between Milan Kundera, Jane Austen, Günter Grass, Kazuo Ishiguro, and about twenty other writers, each of whom got exactly one line. Another featured a cameo by Nabokov scholar Alfred Appel, Jr. Still others had Gander and Bailey hashing out the production process itself.
The “appendix” belonging to the television project is Gander’s book of that title (Artimo, 2003), a work that seems central to his practice and on which he also collaborated with Bailey. A good part of the book is concerned with establishing unexpected links between real-life occurrences, people, and objects—a concept Gander also developed into an ongoing series of performative lectures titled “(Loose) Associations.” The version he performed at Culver City’s Mandrake Bar on November 21 was witty and engaging: in digressive, anti-Sherlockian fashion, he guided his audience on a meandering journey from point A—a discussion of “desire paths” in urban planning—to point B—“trauma lines” meant to direct traffic flow in hospitals—to point Z, a scene from Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later” (2003) in which Cillian Murphy wanders a deserted London (while just off-screen, Gander pointed out, thousands of real-life drivers are furiously honking). Along the way he connected to everything from invented languages (Elvish and Klingon), the British TV show “Inspector Morse” and its star John Thaw, a historical tidbit concerning British longbows, and a lawsuit artist Gillian Wearing brought against Volkswagen.
If there was a central theme to this presentation, it had to do with the question of the separation between performance and reality, an idea that in Gander’s work has broad implications and applications. The distinction between the un-staged and staged can be extrapolated to include the distinction (or lack thereof) between the unconscious and conscious, and also between life and art. The passport photograph of Gander’s mother wearing Monk’s earrings (“Enough to start over,” 2006), for instance, can be seen as an effort to toe this line. In Monk’s original work the silver earrings—on their own, just jewelry—are attached to a small black-and-white photo of a boy, piercing his eyes so they read as tears. Gander acquired the piece and then had his mother wear the earrings as earrings while sitting for a pedestrian passport photo, later pinning it to the gallery wall. By snaking back and forth between what’s not considered art and what is, Gander also probes what it means to be an artist: Is it all a matter of knowing if and when to forge connections? Is the ideal artist essentially passive or active? If the secret to making good art lies in calibrating unconscious and conscious minds, what is the optimal balance? Only one thing seems clear: the mystery rests in how, and to what degree, relationships between ideas are constructed. Gander’s work may appear removed, but it’s really driving at the heart of the matter. Only this heart, unlike that of a Sherlock Holmes case, remains elusive.